Apr 102020

Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.

Justin Timberlake's "Cry Me a River"

Justin Timberlake was one of the rare artists who successfully escaped a ’90s boy band to become a “serious” and respected artist. This was almost unheard of at the time; many “leaders” of bands failed to breakthrough as solo artists, let alone boy bands. But Timberlake paved the way for others like Harry Styles to flourish beyond their first act. However, Timberlake did not do it alone. Timbaland and The Neptunes, a production duo made up of Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo, helped craft Timberlake’s first solo album Justified.

I didn’t always know this fun fact. I recently re-discovered Timbaland’s Shock Value and Shock Value II, and although I appreciated the wide variety in collaborators (Jet, Fall Out Boy, Chad Kroeger, and Elton John are some of the most surprising), I realized that Timberlake and Timbaland sure were collaborating a lot. Then I started to do some digging and realized how influential Timbaland was in Timberlake’s career. Throwing the whole way back to Justified put Pharrell on my radar as well. I then wondered how many other artists these two had influenced in a similar way, and with that question, this week of posts was born.

I discovered that The Neptunes produced hits like “Señorita,” “Like I Love You,” and “Rock Your Body,” while Timbaland produced “Cry Me a River” and the less mainstream but still impactful “Right for Me” and “(Oh No) What You Got.” Since then, Timbaland has been involved in each of Justin Timberlake’s solo albums, helping Timberlake to bring SexyBack and rock a Suit & Tie, among other good deeds. He is even involved in the Trolls soundtrack! Man in the Woods also reunited Timberlake, Timbaland, and The Neptunes. Where would Timberlake be without these two?!

After a week of exploring the influences of the two triple threats Timbaland and Pharrell Williams (they write, they produce, and they perform), we delve into five covers of “Cry Me a River,” Justified‘s second single that features Timbaland vocals. For context, the song was inspired by Timberlake’s breakup with Britney Spears. Key features to listen for are the piano and synth lines,  the opening monk chants, an intense beat drop, and falsetto accusations like “don’t act like you don’t know it” and “I found out from him.”

The Cliks – Cry Me A River (Justin Timberlake cover)

The Cliks is a rock band from Canada who broke ground as the first band signed to the Tommy Boy Entertainment record label (who signed Queen Latifah, Gucci Mane, and Coolio among others) who had an open trans man lead. In their version of the song, the recognizable piano opening is replaced with electric guitar and bass. However, this version of “Cry Me a River” still has the requisite inflections on “I found out from him” and “don’t act like you don’t know it.” Timbaland’s “the damage is done, so I guess I’ll be leaving” line breaks up the full rock vibe and gives a bit of early No Doubt energy. Importantly, even in this slightly edgier cover, falsetto is featured in all of the right places.

Leona Lewis – Cry Me A River (Justin Timberlake cover)

Leona Lewis is so much more than “Bleeding Love” (which always makes me think of this relatable scene).  She featured this cover during her Labyrinth Tour (along with another cover of “Sweet Dreams”) which turned into a video album. First, shout-out to the background singers, who do the best recreation of the opening monk-like chant and give the spiteful delivery of “don’t act like you don’t know it” that we have come to expect. A subtle woodblock type beat takes over for the original’s more in-your-face beat. Lewis has the vocal range to reach the high notes without having to reach for the falsetto.

Jorja Smith – Cry Me A River (Justin Timberlake cover)

Jorja Smith is an up-and-coming British artist who has opened for Bruno Mars and collaborated with rappers like Drake, Stormzy, and Kendrick Lamar. Smith starts off with her own opener that is less deep and monk-like and more light and ephemeral. The sparsest cover yet, the piano and percussion are both replaced with acoustic guitar. The beat doesn’t drop in the same intense way as the original, but we still experience the emotional rollercoaster.

CHVRCHES  – Cry Me A River (Justin Timberlake cover)

We could all learn from this band’s SEO prowess. The unique spelling of the band name was specifically chosen to make sure they would be Google-able without conflicting with other church results. Ever unique, CHVRCHES add their own production flair to this cover. There is no piano line, but the synth provides the backbone. You can see the bandmates really feel the beat as they increasingly add elements as the choruses build. At times the vocals have a slight monotone delivery of someone in shock.

 Race the Horizon – Cry Me A River (Justin Timberlake cover)

This cover starts with an introductory violin that yields to a simple two-note repetition (a little bit of “Dream On,” perhaps?) After a few lyric lines, heavy percussion and bass transition to the traditional background music, mirroring the dramatic beat drop in the original. The iconic piano kicks in and remains throughout, backing up this trio of vocalists. Race the Horizon add a rap to their version; this is not unprecedented, as 50 Cent contributed a remix to the original.

Bonus if you can handle some screaming fans: Justin Bieber has covered this song through the ages.

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  2 Responses to “Five Good Covers: “Cry Me A River” (Justin Timberlake)”

Comments (2)
  1. Legally, I have to inform you that it’s criminal if you don’t include Glen Hansard. Lol!

    • Definitely! The great thing about this song is that we could easily do yet another round of five good covers. I especially like the spunky guitar strums in Hansard’s version.

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